Essay
Change
Community
Justice
8 min read

Blackpool: how to make somewhere home

From tents to a town-wide regeneration, Blackpool’s hopeful placemaking.

John is a Salvation Army captain serving in Blackpool.

An aerial view at dusk of a brightly lit pier and promenade of the seaside town of Blackpool
Blackpool's piers and promenade.

“Good morning! Would you like to come in?” 

I found myself in a local park. I’d had a couple of sips of my coffee, but it was still early in the morning on outreach in Blackpool with workers from the Council. The greeting from the man stepping out of his tent was a cheerful surprise. I was nervous as the task was to give the people sleeping in the small clearing behind the bushes a ‘heads up’. Enforcement action was planned, and a new Public Space Protection Order (PSPO)—another crude way to police the bodies of the unhoused who show up in places society doesn’t really want them—had been placed on the park. The Salvation Army and Council hoped to avoid, or at least lessen, any distress that a confrontation with enforcement agencies might bring about. However, sometimes the message can be confused with the messenger. Fortunately, my worries were unnecessary.  

“You can get through here. Don’t worry, you won’t get muddy. We’ve made a path!” 

He beckoned me and my colleagues to an opening. He had indeed made a path with some bark chippings. Giving us reassurance about the mud underfoot, he guided us to the space they had made home. The word ‘made’ is important here since they had shaped the space to become more habitable. This created the opportunity to welcome us and to show off what they had done. There was dignity in the orderliness of the space and an obvious pride in the landscaping. The message about enforcement was given with gentleness and received with grace. This grace, unexpected yet appreciated, was the day’s first lesson in humanity. My main lesson was realised only later, after we had bid each other farewell: that there is a deeply human and Christian call to transform spaces into meaningful places. 

Just as birds intricately weave branches into nests and beavers architecturally sculpt their dams, we humans engage in this process to shape our environments to fulfil our needs. 

Although living on the edges of society, those I met had carved out a small space to call home. They exerted control over it. What was previously space became place through personalisation, social interaction, and functionality. Human experience was layered there, changing the appropriate mode of analysis from geography to biography. Life was being lived. However, that place was to return to its previous anonymity. It would lose its distinctiveness, stripped of the layers of meaning it had for the short time it was inhabited. Although it may sound nostalgic, it's clear that for those living in them, the tents were more than a makeshift solution. They symbolised a deep need to create a home, even in the toughest conditions. Experiencing long-term homelessness, they saw the park as an improvement over the exposed town-centre shop doorways, fully aware, however, of the hurdles in finding a stable home. They looked at their time in the park not just as a stopgap but as a respite in the journey towards a better future, even though they knew it wouldn't be quick. Their plans clashed with the reality of enforcement agencies, whose actions focused on moving them on quickly. 

Their attempts to carve out a place of their own in the park are an expression of an impulse indelibly woven into the human condition: the need to make our environment our own. Just as birds intricately weave branches into nests and beavers architecturally sculpt their dams, we humans engage in this process to shape our environments to fulfil our needs. This instinctive behaviour is also an inherent drive to mould our surroundings to reflect our identity. These acts of placemaking not only alter our immediate environments to enhance our quality of life. They also influence the broader ecological and social landscapes in which we dwell. Indeed, a PSPO is part of that broader social landscape. So too was our outreach. The reciprocal relationship between humans, habitats, and other humans highlights how our endeavours to create 'home' extend beyond mere physical modifications. They are the very fabric of our communities and ecosystems. By transforming spaces into places imbued with meaning and purpose, we participate in an ongoing dialogue with the world that shapes both our development as individuals and the collective evolution of our surroundings. 

Stewardship goes beyond mere conservation, however, embedding a sense of responsibility to enhance communal welfare and well-being

It is a sentiment I know myself. Having frequently moved home in my youth, like many who search for a place to belong, I am acquainted with the need to craft home anew. As a child, it was putting up familiar football posters on my bedroom wall. As an adult, it is a reshuffling of the living room furniture, which my wife graciously accepts. Intriguingly, my grandmother, whom I know only through stories as she died before my birth, shared this ritual of rearranging her lounge. It is a compelling idea that such behaviours might form part of our genetic makeup, passed along generations, silently teaching us habits to create home. Perhaps this impulse is heightened by my dwelling not being my own but rather a provision by The Salvation Army to fulfil my commitment as a Salvation Army officer. This rearrangement ritual becomes a prayer in action, making space into place again. It is a home not owned by me but held in trust, reminding me that my role in the community is both temporal and purposeful, and my residence a testimony to service over possession. 

In Christian thought, there has always been a strong emphasis on caring for the environment, a practice often referred to as "stewardship." This concept is rooted in the belief that all people are caretakers of the Earth, entrusted to foster and preserve the natural and social environments in which they live. Stewardship goes beyond mere conservation, however, embedding a sense of responsibility to enhance communal welfare and well-being—what in Hebrew is called shalom. Shalom encompasses more than peace; it implies a holistic harmony that includes justice, well-being, and prosperity. In practice, this means Christians are encouraged not just to inhabit spaces but to actively improve them, ensuring they contribute positively to the community. This desire to contribute to the fulness of human experience expressed as shalom underscores the dual nature of Christian and, fundamentally, human existence: engaged, yet expectant; grounded, yet yearning for a true home. 

The mission of placemaking knows no bounds: from the local county to the national landscape, and even the global stage.

Placemaking is about transforming both individual spaces and entire communities, such as towns and cities in need of rejuvenation.  An example of such transformation is seen in Blackpool, a town with a rich history, now on the brink of significant change. The Blackpool Pride of Place Partnership, formed seven years ago, underscores this through its recent event at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, launching the Town Prospectus for 2024. This event showcased the combined efforts of both the private and public sectors to achieve their shared goals. The latest prospectus highlighted the progress from mere ideas to tangible achievements. Much like the pride the unhoused man showed in his makeshift chip-wood path, it highlighted with rightful pride the transformation of concepts from the initial prospectus—once mere computer-generated images—into tangible buildings and projects now existing in reality. This larger-scale transformation reflects a universal need to adapt our environments for the better, mirroring the individual acts of placemaking, like those seen in a morning outreach in the park. The practical challenge is how the instincts and dreams of the unhoused man, currently manifest in a little bark footpath, might be better translated into the wider process of town-wide identity. This process often leaves even the most engaged people feeling overlooked, especially those trapped in the cycle of homelessness, unable to see beyond immediate survival. It is here that the Christian community gets involved in this placemaking.  

Just as the church will be called to extend support to a person without a home, we are similarly obliged to play a role in the broader scope of regeneration efforts by helping the voiceless find their voice and amplifying it. Our stewardship extends beyond mere occupation of space; it is a call to play a bold role, engaging confidently and constructively with decision-makers and policy-shapers to help resist the secular tendency towards inequity. The Christian’s vocation to sojourn purposefully intersects with a civic duty to nurture spaces that promote the well-being of all residents, but with a particular bias towards those who are voiceless. In the context of Blackpool, invoking the spirit of Jeremiah we are urged to ‘seek the shalom of Blackpool... and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its shalom you will find your shalom.’ This noble endeavour to move the ‘World As It Is’ to the ‘World As It Should Be’ is transformative. It not only reshapes our communities but also refines our own character from ‘Who I Am’ to ‘Who I Should Be’. This fusion of spiritual odyssey and community involvement epitomises Christian discipleship. Placemaking, then, can be an act of faith and dedication, not merely shaping physical landscapes but also weaving a spiritual fabric that enriches the collective identity of our communal life by including those on the edge, like people in tents in a park. 

This principle transcends the specific context of Blackpool. The mission of placemaking knows no bounds: from the local county to the national landscape, and even the global stage. The shaping of space into home is a fundamental instinct relevant to all, from an unhoused neighbour to residents of a town like Blackpool to the Christian sojourning in the world. The church has an invaluable role to play in this effort, serving as both a consistent presence in a place undergoing upheaval and being a catalyst for change, but most particularly an avenue for participation for those we might consider to be ‘the least of these’ - the homeless man; the battered girlfriend; the addict; the asylum seeker; the kid excluded from school; the lonely older person. By embracing this call, the church upholds its commitment to being a faithful community and fostering belonging. It also participates in the divine act of creation, shaping the world to reflect God’s love and grace. Through this sacred duty, the church contributes to spaces becoming places of shalom. Indeed, without ‘the least of these’ playing a part, true shalom is not possible. By partnering with other local organisations through broad-based community organisations, initiating housing projects, or advocating for policy changes, the church can materialise its vision to make earth a bit more like heaven. Examples from communities where churches have led or participated in urban regeneration efforts demonstrate the transformative power of faith in action, turning spaces of neglect into thriving places of community and support. 

From the personal touch of a man creating pathways in a park, to my relocating of household furniture, to the communal efforts in Blackpool's regeneration, we witness a profound truth: that shaping our world to become home is not just an act of physical transformation but an expression of deep spiritual yearning, which is, fundamentally, to know that the Kingdom of God is among us. 

Column
Change
Character
Psychology
1 min read

Look out for the outliers

Seeing the good qualities in others lifts them, benefits us, and makes the world better.

Roger Bretherton is Associate Professor of Psychology, at the University of Lincoln. He is a UK accredited Clinical Psychologist.

A office worker wearing headphones looks out of a hectic and loud office space around which people are moving
Nick Jones/Midjourney.ai

I was talking to someone the other day. She is a website developer and she’s just changed jobs. She is not a loud person, but anyone who meets her knows she is a person of quality, of depth and presence. She emanates a humble confidence. In her old job, she worked in a quiet, fairly sedate, office where she was given the space and the time to bring all her creativity to bear on whatever brief she was given. She was known and appreciated. 

But her new job – the job she started last week – is a bit different. Her new colleagues are loud and outspoken. Silence is unknown in their office. They like to work to a soundtrack. The drum and bass keep thumping, and the banter never stops flowing. She’s finding it hard to fit in with her new team. And things weren’t made any easier when, after a few days, her new boss took her aside for a pep talk.  

What was the problem? She was ‘too quiet’.  

It hurt to hear that. It broke my heart to think that anyone could be so blind. How shortsighted do you have to be, to view the grace and peace someone carries as a problem to be solved? In a world of distressing noise and clamour, she is precisely the kind of person every office needs to temper the insanity.  

I’m not worried about her. She’s bright and innovative. She’ll work it out. Either her new boss will see sense, or she’ll leave. And if she does, the queue of employers looking for someone just like her stretches round the block. She’ll be okay. 

But it got me thinking about the kind of psychology I study. In my research, she would be called an outlier.  One of those people in a team or a family who don’t quite fit in. Not because they are weird or awkward, but because they possess some positive quality the rest of the gang don’t have. They are the creative exuberant in a team who prefer doing things by the book. The hilarious joker in a pack who like to take things seriously. The conscientious worker trying to get on with the job in an office that would rather play now and work later. The kind one in a family of cutthroat competitors.

At the top of the list of reasons for wanting to leave work are the words: I am not appreciated.

The thing is we all have a unique contribution to make to the world, a one-off fingerprint of strengths and abilities never to be repeated in anyone else. In research these have been called Signature Strengths, the unique combination of positive qualities that make you you. And the weird thing is that we don’t have to try that hard to be them. If you are naturally kind, or wise, or grateful, or disciplined you won’t be able to stop yourself being that way. They come effortlessly to us. And if someone tries to stop us being the loving thoughtful faithful person we know ourselves to be, it is like losing a limb. If we find ourselves in a context where the most beautiful things about us are unwelcome – like my friend the website developer – it is like being rejected, right to the core.  

But here’s the cool thing. If we can live by our Signature Strengths – if we can wake up each morning and ask the question, how can I use my unique positive qualities in a new way today? – it leads to remarkable improvements in wellbeing. Multiple studies have shown that those who live like this, thinking about how they can bring what is best in them to the opportunities and obstacles of each day, report increased happiness in living. Not only that, but they also show reduced anxiety, stress and depression. It turns out being good is good for us. Who knew. 

That’s not the whole story though. To really be our best, we need other people to spot these strengths in us. If they don’t, we feel confined, unable to be ourselves in some way. When I ask people what it is like not to be able to bring their best qualities to the people around them, they come up with some pretty dark images. It is lonely, isolating, a desert, a fog, a prison, like being trapped in a cage. And when researchers ask people why they consider leaving their current job, their answers often reflect something like this. Work-life balance and salary are no doubt important, but often, at the top of the list of reasons for wanting to leave work are the words: I am not appreciated. Something good we wanted to give has not been received. We feel unseen. 

So that’s why I say: look out for the outliers. Who is it in your family, your workplace, your neighbourhood, who goes underappreciated? Who do you know who has something good to give, but needs some help to give it? Because if we can learn to see those invisible beautiful qualities in the people around us, we not only give them the joy of being known, we also invite more light and flavour into the world. Life becomes a little less grey. 

I just hope my friend’s new boss can learn this while he still has the chance. It is tough for her to feel so misunderstood, but it’s worse for him. She can move on, but he has to remain in an office deprived of the humble compassion she would have brought to it. It’s a question worth asking. What gift of beauty and goodness are we excluding from the world because we failed to see past the packaging?